Malheur County to declare emergency over job losses because of vaccine mandate

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce. (The Enterprise/File)

VALE – The Malheur County Court plans to issue an emergency declaration Wednesday over concerns of staffing shortages among emergency response agencies if vaccination mandates are enforced.

The declaration asks Gov. Kate Brown to lift her Covid vaccine mandates and allow the county to chart its own way in the future regarding restrictions.

 “A state of emergency is declared within Malheur County due to the immediately foreseeable lack of adequate resources to respond to basic needs for public health safety services,” the declaration states.

A fear that many areas first responders will decline to be vaccinated before an Oct. 18 deadline is driving the declaration, said Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge. Joyce said area first responder agencies are already short staffed and the governor’s mandate complicates an already serious situation.

“We’re inadequate in a lot of areas anyway. When you used to get 100 people to apply for a job now you get three. So, we need to put this on hold until there is adequate staff,” said Joyce.

The declaration does not outline the specific steps the county will take, though often such measures clear the way for an entity to ask for state assistance in terms of funding or other resources.

The declaration points to Idaho as one alternative to work around the new mandates.

Last week the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare declared a move to crisis care standards to allow rationing of medical care because of a surge in Covid hospitalizations.

As a result, Saint Alphonsus Health System and St. Luke’s Health System recently suspended their requirement that Idaho employees be vaccinated.

Joyce it is important the county voice its concerns to the governor.

“We can stand here and do nothing or do something and hope we are heard,” said Joyce.

Jess Tolman, chief of the Vale Fire & Ambulance, said about 60 percent of his 14-member ambulance staff won’t be vaccinated by the time the deadline arrives.

“We are already beyond the point of being fully vaccinated by the 18th unless they do the Johnson and Johnson,” said Tolman.

Tolman said his staff’s concerns include potential long-term effects of the vaccine, its effectiveness and that they are being forced to get inoculated.

Tolman said the ambulance services workload “will definitely increase” if the vaccination mandates are enforced.

“In a way, it will kind of close us down a little bit,” said Tolman.

Tolman said he “totally agrees” with the emergency declaration.

“The governor has to see this mandate will really hurt emergency services,” said Tolman.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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